Phase recovery and lensless imaging by iterative methods in optical, X-ray and electron diffraction

J. C. H. Spence, U. Weierstall, M. Howells


Thomas Young's quantitative analysis of interference effects provided the confidence needed to revive the wave theory of light, and firmly established the concept of phase in optics. Phase plays a similarly fundamental role in matter-wave interferometry, for which the field-emission electron microscope provides ideal instrumentation. The wave-particle duality is vividly demonstrated by experimental ‘Young's fringes’ using coherent electron beams under conditions in which the flight time is less than the time between particle emission. A brief historical review is given of electron interferometry and holography, including the Aharonov-Bohm effect and the electron Sagnac interferometer. The simultaneous development of phase-contrast imaging at subnanometre spatial resolution has greatly deepened our understanding of atomic processes in biology, materials science and condensed-matter physics, while electron holography has become a routine tool for the mapping of electrostatic and magnetic fields in materials on a nanometre scale. The encoding of phase information in scattered farfield intensities is discussed, and non-interferometric, non-crystallographic methods for phase retrieval are reviewed in relationship to electron holography. Examples of phase measurement and diffraction-limited imaging using the hybrid input-output iterative algorithm are given, including simulations for soft X-ray imaging, and new experimental results for coherent electron and visible-light scattering. Image reconstruction is demonstrated from experimental electron and visible-light Fraunhofer diffraction patterns. The prospects this provides for lensless imaging using particles for which no lenses exist (such as neutrons, condensates, coherent atom beams and X-rays) are discussed. These new interactions can be expected to provide new information, perhaps, for example, in biology, with the advantage of less damage to samples.

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